Exclusive: Pentagon chief sends military wish lists to Congress with reservations

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 30, 2015 5:37 PM

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Monday sent Congress the military's annual "wish lists," including 12 Boeing Co F/A-18 fighter jets and 14 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets, but said he would not back any of the requests unless lawmakers passed a larger overall defense budget.

"Any extra program inserted into our budget submission will come at the expense of other programs we deemed more important, with ripple effects across the rest of the budget," Carter said in a letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.

Carter told lawmakers he was sending the lists of "unfunded priorities" to Congress as required under the fiscal 2013 defense policy law, but registered his concerns about any moves by Congress to restructure the Pentagon's budget request.

Lawmakers use the lists to insert their priorities and shape the Pentagon's budget request, but the fate of the fiscal 2016 defense budget remains uncertain given that the request already exceeds congressional budget caps by $34 billion.

Military leaders have warned Congress that failure to enact the higher budget level would undermine their ability to respond to a sudden conflict, train troops and maintain equipment, which could ultimately endanger the lives of Americans.

The biggest items on the annual lists this year included the Navy's request for $1.15 billion to buy a dozen Boeing fighter jets to cover projected shortfall in strike fighters in coming years. If approved by Congress, the orders could help Boeing extend production at its St. Louis manufacturing plant, which is currently slated to halt at the end of 2017.

Last year, the Navy asked for over $2 billion for 22 EA-18G electronic attack planes built on the same production line, and Congress ultimately funded 15 of them, which - along with a slower production rate - extended production from the end of 2016.

The Navy also requested eight more F-35C fighter jets for use on its carriers for $1.04 billion, while the Marine Corps asked for six more F-35 B-model jets, which take off and land like helicopters, at a cost of $1.05 billion.

Officials at Boeing and Lockheed declined comment on the services' wish lists.

The Navy also asked for $65 million to buy an additional Triton unmanned surveillance plane built by Northrop Grumman Corp and $187 million for two Boeing C-40A cargo planes.

The Army asked for $200 million for PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement missiles built by Lockheed to keep up with surging demand for missile defense by military commanders, and $975 million to beef up cybersecurity at key sites in the United States, Europe and South Korea.

The Air Force sent Congress a modest list of items, but urged lawmakers to fund its full base budget request before looking at any additional items.

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Eric Beech and Alan Crosby)